Easter Day – The Critical Centre 9/04/2023
After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.
2 There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. 4 The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.
5 The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6 He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”
8 So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
The longer I journey on with you in this life of faith in Jesus we share, the more this day counts. Easter Day has become the centre of my faith in Jesus and the centre of this central day is what those gospel witnesses tell us – that Jesus from Nazareth who claimed to be the almighty creator God with us as us, killed the consequences of our wayward heart of sin within, which is death, by willingly entering it and rising from it in triumph for us.
And that this same human and divine Jesus is alive and is enacting a whole new project of new creation of new heaven and new earth as we speak because he still speaks.
As Matthew and the others abundantly show, this stunning event is not mere world thing; some nice idea or general theory of archaeology and science or historical research. Nor is it some out of reach, ‘other-world’ thing; some super ‘spiritual’ mysterious thing that we mere humans can not ‘get’.
This Jesus was in a tomb made of stuff we know – rock, that had military personnel posted outside and even heavenly messengers present, but sitting on a rock pulled away from the opening, and the two Mary’s there in real human grief and then real human joy as they step into Jesus mission project as directed.
This resurrection of Jesus is human, historical and heavenly right here on planet earth in a specific time and place with real people around it and sent to share it.
So Easter Day is our story and it is everything for us. Paul puts it well….
13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith … 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
“If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied”. In other words, if we believe that Jesus is only really good for helping us with our hopes for here, our concerns, fears, doubts, joys and everything else about us, and not at all of any value for death and dying and the big questions of why we are here and who we really are and what is life all about and where does it all end, and what are the most important things, then we church people are lost and to be pitied by everyone else.
Well, that is happening – on two counts.
- We are indeed pitied by everyone else. As it was so often in the New Testament, the message of this bodily, real human resurrection from the dead by Jesus was laughed at.
Same now. N.T. Wright puts it well…
“We could cope—the world could cope—with a Jesus who ultimately remains a wonderful idea inside his disciples’ minds and hearts. The world cannot cope with a Jesus who comes out of the tomb, who inaugurates God’s new creation right in the middle of the old one.”
N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope
- We Christians so often do have our entire focus and effort on the concerns of the here and no, but out of touch with Matthew, the Mary’s, the disciples, the first church, the mission to go and tell and the joy.
On the one hand, we turn Jesus into our personal butler who is supposed to be at our beck and call for all the daily needs we have. We can get rather cranky when he keeps telling us he is not our personal butler or therapist whose only goal is to assist us in life.
On the other, we take his ‘here and now’ gift of life forever in him already gifted to us by the Spirit in our baptism and just throw it all in the storage cupboard at the back of top shelf to be pulled out when we are dying, while we carry on using all the other stuff in the house for what we need day-to-day – as if all that Jesus has said and done is only to ‘get to heaven when we die”, and not for living now when we are already raised from death!
Can you see how much of a critical centre Jesus’ resurrection is for you and any person?
Tim Keller gets it …
“If Jesus rose from the dead, then you have to accept all that he said; if he didn’t rise from the dead, then why worry about any of what he said? The issue on which everything hangs is not whether or not you like his teaching but whether or not he rose from the dead.”
— Timothy Keller, The Reason for God
Faith does not rest on what I like or don’t like about Jesus, as if he merely one of so many guru’s who have their special program to help me be OK or make sense of things etc….
Faith rests on whether Jesus did what he said he would – rise from death and thereby bring in a new way to be me free from it.
If Jesus is just a wise good man of courage in the face of evil or a great teacher of morals, or justice, then he is not your Saviour. But if he rose from death for you and happily shares that great gift with you, then he is.
Which is he this Easter for you? Guru or Saviour? A fine person or even some spiritual prophet, or the person around whom you would join the Mary’s kneeling and clasping his holy wounded feet in thanks and high praise with immense joy?
That is what Easter Day is for! To get back in touch with Jesus as Saviour. To plumb the depths of his greatest sign of life and love – his rising from everything evil and dark and hopeless and lifeless to give a new life, a new hope and new joy for our journey together with him now; to get back to joy!
This day urges you to pull out Jesus’ gifts from the back of the top shelf in the storage cupboard and see who he is again, and what he has done and who you are again for living free in any concerns and fears today.
When you let Matthew tell you again how it went down and what it means for him and the others you will quickly re-discover that you are like those two Mary’s in Matthew’s telling of Resurrection Day. You will hear that you are involved in a global, timeless project and your role is to
“go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you.”
There are plenty of his disciples here today. Tell them. Share your joy. Speak his name. Tell this story and yours.
We are all sent. NT Wright again;
Jesus’s resurrection is the beginning of God’s new project not to snatch people away from earth to heaven but to colonize earth with the life of heaven.”
— N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope
So we are colonists here in this region. You are a good news colonist in your family, at you work, in this town, in that club, in that classroom….
For today, we are here at the empty tomb with the angel and the Mary’s and each other gladly being surprised by this joy of reallyu good news for our life and death and our life again, no matter what.
Let the Spirit surprise you again, lift you again, fill you again with that joy you once knew, you have known at times or have never known….until Easter Day.
Hope is here today. He is a person with you now;
“Easter was when Hope in person surprised the whole world by coming forward from the future into the present.” — N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope
Friends, our hope is now, and our future is here in part and one day in full.
Courage now too, friend. Faith is courageous. Franciscan priest and writer, the late Brennan Manning, put it well …
“For me the most radical demand of Christian faith lies in summoning the courage to say yes to the present risenness of Jesus Christ.”
— Brennan Manning, Abba’s Child
I pray you are indeed saying ‘yes’ to his present risenness!
You have no need to be like those soldiers – overcome with fear, and for all intents and purposes, ‘like dead men’ to God’s message.
You have every confidence to be like those Mary’s; unafraid, full of words and trusting Jesus has said ‘yes’ to you and is sending you with a message to live and purpose to fulfil in your life.
He is risen.
He is risen indeed.